North American International School is a fast-improving US curriculum school, teaching the US Common Core curriculum supported by the UAE Ministry of Education curriculum for Arabic and Islamic Studies.
The story so far...
North American International School is located in Al Mizhar and currently has some 500 students on its roster - a small number compared with many US curriculum schools in the city. However, NAIS has definite plans for the future.
The school aims to "develop lifelong learners and future leaders by continually reviewing and building an enriched American curriculum, promoting student achievement, encouraging integrity and nurturing a desire to learn."
NAIS is owned by members of the Al Taher family, whose founders, Abdul Hussain Taher and Zainab A Taher, have now handed over the role of Director to Arwa A Taher. Director Arwa, speaking about her parents' initiative told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com;
"North American International School was established in the year 2007 by my parents Mrs. and Mr. Taher with few students but a strong vision, which is now flourishing with students of 44 different nationalities. Our aim at NAIS is to provide education as a process that leads to the attainment of the full potential of each individual studying here".
The school says that it has deliberately capped its enrollment number to 588 for the 2020-21 academic year. This breaks down to 30 students at the KG1 and KG2 grades with 44 students from Grades 1 to 12. However, the school was built to accommodate 1,500 students and its strategic growth plan allows for an increase, in 2021-22, at the primary levels (KG1-Grade2) and then a subsequent increase, by phase, throughout the following years.
Students come from over 40 different and diverse countries including Afghanistan, Australia, Malawi, Canada, South Africa and the United States to name a few. The largest nationality group is Emirati who make up around 37%, and there are further sizeable contingents from Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, and India. The split between male and female students is almost 1:1, with 269 boys and 233 girls.
The school's 54 teachers also come from a range of countries. The largest percentages are from North America (US and Canada) and Egypt, followed by Pakistan and India who altogether account for approximately 75% of the total staff .
The school has been in operation since 2007 and had received an Acceptable rating from the KHDA's DISB inspectors for nine inspections in a row. However, in 2019-20, NAIS achieved the much sought Good rating - an achievement that should not be under-estimated!
And it would seem that the fundamental reason behind the long-awaited improvement was the arrival of current Principal, Justin McCauley who took over from the long-standing previous Principal in 2019.
Mr. McCauley was born and raised in Portland, Oregon USA, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from Portland State University. He then continued his post-graduate education earning his licensure to teach English at the middle school and high school level. Mr. McCauley taught Language Arts, Leadership, and Film Studies at Centennial High School in Oregon, for 10 years. He subsequently attained a Master of Education degree from Lewis and Clark College.
Prior to moving to NAIS, Mr. McCauley spent four years as an Academic Vice Principal for ADEK where he made considerable inroads into the standards of the MOE school which he led, raising it from Weak to Acceptable/Good. Since arriving at NAIS, Mr. McCauley has worked to raise the KHDA inspection rating in over 20 different categories, culminating in the overall Good rating for the school. With the onset of Covid 19, NAIS also achieved the highest rating of Developed on the most recent Distance Learning Evaluation.
Explaining where the focus now lies at NAIS, Mr. McCauley told us; "North American International School is a place for all students to learn, excel, challenge themselves, and grow. We value the partnership between students, parents, teachers, and school administrators. We understand that student success is dependent on communication between those groups. We focus on getting to know your child as an individual and tailoring their education to meet their individual needs."
The focus on individual attention is reflected in the support provided by the school for students of Determination and those with Gifts and Talents. Just under 50 students have been assessed as in need of additional support, whilst a further 13 students have been designated as having specific gifts and talents.
The school also employs a Full-Time Counselor and a Full-Time Social Worker, in addition to staff trained to support students with SEND requirements.
In the latest KHDA inspection report, the provisions and outcomes for Students of Determination was rated Good.
What about the curriculum?
North American International School follows the California State common core standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics, and the Next Generation Science Standards for these subjects. Arabic and Islamic Education are based on the UAE Ministry Education standards which are incorporated into the Social Studies curriculum.
Core subjects from Elementary school through Middle school include Mathematics, Science, English, Social Studies (History), Moral Education, Arabic for Native and Non-Native speakers, Islamic for Native and Non-Native speakers, Art, Physical Education, Music and Information Technology Class (ICT). French is taught as a third language.
Once students enter High school, the range of study broadens significantly. Mathematics includes Algebra in Grade 9, Geometry in Grade 10, Algebra 2 or Consumer Math in Grade 11, Pre-calculus or Consumer Math 2 in Grade 12. Science includes Earth and Space Science in Grade 9, Biology in Grade 10, Chemistry in Grade 11, with optional courses in Environmental Science, Anatomy and Physiology and Physics 1 in Grade 11, whilst options in Grade 12 include Physics 2, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, Anatomy and Physiology.
English electives include Multicultural Literature, Contemporary Literature, Debate, Creative Writing, and Journalism, whilst Humanities electives include Economics, Sociology, Psychology, AP Psychology, Business management and leadership and Introduction to Accounting. Information Technology electives include Web Design, Computer Programming 1, Computer Programming 2, and SAT preparation.
The school also offers a range of Student Services electives including Student Government/Leadership, Teacher Assistant, Office Assistant, Academic Peer Tutoring, Functional Study Skills, Fundamental Career Skills to enable students to gain experience for the work-place.
A particular focus is being placed on broadening the range of Advance Placement courses being offered by the school which will support students' ambitions for university placement both locally and internationally.
In the current academic year, AP Biology, AP Psychology, and AP Drawing have been available. In 2021-22, AP US History, AP Chemistry, and AP Statistics will be added to the options, and in 2022-23, AP Literature, AP Calculus and AP European History will be added to the range. In 2023-24, NAIS plans to add an AP Language option, bringing the total number of AP courses available to 10.
The school also making big plans for extra-curricular activities, with the intention to expand these to allow for more student involvement outside of the regular school day. NAIS recognizes that the school should plan a central role in the community. With that in mind, NAIS is determined to increase its after-school and weekend programming, allowing students and families to participate in school events outside of the normal academic day.
Increases in clubs, sporting groups, and teams will play an important part in the life of the school and is historically a key element of US curriculum schools in terms of student and community involvement.
The school, as required by the KHDA, has completed its accreditation by NEASC, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which ensures that the curriculum and teaching standards are compliant with those of schools in the US and that the school's High School Diploma, issued to students on leaving in Grade 12, will be recognised by colleges and universities globally.
In fact all leavers from NAIS went on to tertiary education at the end of the last academic year, both in the UAE and overseas, including the US, Canada and Germany.
What about the facilities?
NAIS is currently a small school offering a wide range of facilities. These include a full school Library and two Phase-Specific Libraries, a 600 Person Theater, three dedicated Art Rooms, two dedicated Music Rooms, four Computer Labs, and six Science Labs. There are also dedicated SEND Offices and Academic Intervention Spaces.
Sports facilities include two Artificial Turf Football Fields, and a Basketball Court, together with three Indoor Sport Activity areas. There are three Playground Areas.
Other facilities include a Cafeteria, a parent meeting area, two Conference Areas, several Student Activity areas and a Student Store.
The facilities are another area in which the school intends to invest - a necessity if it wishes to achieve its expansion plans. NAIS has developed a Five Year Facilities' Plan that includes the remodeling of the KG Playground area, the installation of several sports courts, the installation of organic garden areas and a swimming pool to facilitate the inclusion of a swimming program within the in-school and after-school offerings.
What the inspectors say
Nine years is a very long time to stay at one rating, although, to be fair, the demands made by the KHDA and the DSIB inspection teams have grown consistently since the inspection regime was introduced. For a school, therefore, to retain a specific rating means that it has not stood still, but rather that it has not advanced quickly enough to make the next step up the ladder.
Therefore, the achievement of the Good rating by NAIS in 2019-20, clearly shows that the school has made a step change in terms of the quality of education that it is providing.
The inspection team had little but positive words to say about the progress that had been made by NAIS, noting that:
The inspectors determined that the strengths of NAIS were:
Having now achieved the Good rating, there is of course still further improvement to be made. The inspectors determined that NAIS should:
Whilst there are clearly still improvements to be made in terms of Student Achievement in particular, for the remaining key performance areas, all are rated at least Good, with Personal Development of students being rated Very Good across the school. The road to improvement is not one that can be trodden overnight, but the speed with which the school has been able to improve since the new leadership team arrived is impressive, and we have no doubt that their next goal - that of a Very Good rating - will be achieved.
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the rating, you will find it here.
A relatively small number (56) of parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey. In general, parents were satisfied with the new principal, and with the way the school is improving. They believed that the school is a happy learning place for their children.
They do have some concerns, including that homework is harder now, that technology is not fully provided, that high school students need more career guidance, and that all students need more extra-curricular activities. Clearly, these latter concerns have been recognised and are being addressed by the school.
Close to 200 students participated in the KHDA's Well-being survey. The results showed that students at NAIS are generally happy and optimistic. They have friends within the school, both from their own and other cultural groups... Most feel a sense of belonging with their peers, their school and in their friendships.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey has received only a small number of responses. The vast majority (75%) of parents felt that they were receiving value for money in terms of the fees they are paying. A similar number were satisfied with the academic performance of the school and with the feedback that they receive from NAIS. These parents would also recommend NAIS to others.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at NAIS, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our survey here.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has shared concerns with the regulators about the quality of US curriculum schools in the UAE, and has been delighted to see that there is clear improvement taking place among schools that historically were often US in name only.
There is no question that North American International School has made significant strides in a short period of time, and even under the circumstances brought about by the Covid 19 pandemic, has succeeded in continuing to develop its provision, as recognised by the Developed rating achieved in the most recent Distance Learning Evaluation.
We are also impressed that the school is ensuring that it puts the right resources and infrastructure in place before trying to grow its student numbers, and that it plans to do the latter in a measured way. We believe the school offers an excellent opportunity for families across a wide range of nationalities and cultures to benefit from an improving curriculum and - importantly - curriculum delivery at a very fair fee level.
When we asked the Principal what we might expect of an NAIS student, he told us;
"A NAIS Student is a student who is excited about learning and growth. Students do not have to come to us with a record of outstanding performance. Rather they must come to us with a desire to learn, improve, and grow. NAIS students see their peers as part of the whole community. They understand that in order for them to succeed, all members of the community must support each other. NAIS students view themselves as part of a family. They feel connected to the school and they have a vested interested in the success of the entire school, not just their own success".
We very much like this positive approach and community ethos....something that is very reflective of the local culture and the UAE's aspirations.
Fees at NAIS range from AED 29,087 in KG1 to AED 46,539 in Grade 12 - towards the mid-range plus scale.
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